Monday, February 14, 2011

Focus on East New York

We have been commenting on the behind the scenes effort to pressure Related to abandon its Walmart dreams for East New York. On Saturday the NY Times focuses attention on the often neglected community: "It isn’t much to look at, just a big empty lot packed with snow and some struggling cattail plants sandwiched between the Starrett City apartment complex and a shopping mall. But a field in the East New York section of Brooklyn has become one of the most hotly debated spots in New York City. All because it may — possibly, one day— be home to the city’s first Wal-Mart store."

But, as we have pointed out earlier, Related is feeling the heat-still, all of this has an air of unreality to it because of the uncertain nature of the developer's plans: “It’s a little bit of Kabuki theater on both sides,” said Richard Lipsky, a lobbyist for small businesses who is helping lead the campaign to keep Wal-Mart out of New York. Not having a specific site to focus on, he explained, “makes it more difficult to hone in on an organizing strategy.” “But in spite of that,” Mr. Lipsky said, “the organizing is going forward.”

Indeed it is: "Lining up against the retail giant are a wide range of people who say the expansion will hurt small businesses and their employees, including elected officials like City Councilman Charles Barron, who represents East New York, and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, immigrant groups, clergy members, unions representing retail workers, and small-business owners."

The Times argues that all Walmart needs to do on the site is sign a lease-owing to the as-of-right nature of a site that went through ULURP without a whiff of the Walmonster's potential presence. But we demur: "In East New York, all that Wal-Mart would need to do is sign a lease. A store there would become part of a huge project that has already been approved by the Council and includes several thousand units of housing and an expansion of the existing Gateway Center shopping mall. Wal-Mart’s opponents are crying foul, saying the plan approved by the Council in 2009 did not include the chain. “It was a total bait and switch,” said Bertha Lewis, the former chief executive of the community organizing group Acorn who is helping to organize the opposition throughout the city."

It may, however, not be as simple as a simple signature-since the status of 20 acres of state owned land remains murky. This property is in the middle of the development, and nothing could proceed on the site without the state's conveyance of the land-although current records indicate a byzantine back and forth between NYS OGS and Related. If there is anything untoward in this land acquisition process, a simple signature would not be sufficient to bring Walmart to Gateway.